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Archive for September, 2009

My grandfather used to say “locks are to keep honest people honest.” I’m starting to think that maybe the current SL content permissions system is, too.

There’s a lot of discussion right now about the new up-and-coming copy-enabling viewer soon to be released onto the grid. A firsthand review of it sounds like it’s going to make content theft much easier than ever before. According to a SLUniverse forum post by Stroker Serpentine, “The interesting aspect is that you can change anything to full perms inside your inventory, but once rezzed the “slam bit” from the server reverts to original owner perms.”

Sounds like a nasty critter to me. On the heels of everything else the gridwide economy has dealt with recently, this kinda sucks. But I guess it would suck any time. And it sucks for everyone. I’m a hobbyist, not what I consider a “real” content creator, but if the content creators whose stores I purchase from shut down, it impacts me even if it isn’t my content that is being stolen.

One really encouraging thing is seeing people pulling together ideas about how to raise intellectual property rights awareness. There’s a proposal on the table for  November 5th as Step Up! Day. A day for no uploading of textures and wearing ribbons show support for content creators. And of course for parties, because you can’t have a designated day in SL without a party to go with it.

I think that this is a wonderful, community-driven way to raise awareness among the people inworld. Those “honest people” who the locks would keep honest, so to speak. But I remain a bit skeptical about whether the Linden Lab is going to take much notice. To be blunt, the Lab does things that further their ends. There’s a cost to beef up content protection tools and/or enforcement. Is the cost higher than the perceived benefit to the Lab right now?

Right now, the need for additional intellectual property protection is a tempest in a teapot. As long as the tempest stays in the teapot — in online forums, in virtual world focused blogs like this one — the Lab has no incentive to act. They’re carrying on like everything is great, putting out rosy press releases and sending executives to talk about virtual goods. M seems to have been on a campaign to rehabilitate the public image of Second Life, and a lot of actions have been taken that benefit corporate image rather than current customers.

So until the tempest escapes the teapot, the Lab doesn’t have any real incentive to do anything in a hurry. Once it becomes a public relations issue, the notoriously slow-moving decisionmakers will suddenly do something to address the threat at hand. A little public prodding seems to be in order. So, when it comes down to it, I think that Stroker Serpentine’s lawsuit against Linden Lab may be the kind of action that is needed right now.

Stroker said something in a SLUniverse post today that really impressed me as distilling the whole issue facing content creators:

I think the critical element is to continue to discuss ways to identify pirated content from the original, provide more streamlined notification, effective takedown practices and a tightening of the capablities that allow for viral distribution.

I don’t believe anyone expects LL to become the “Grid Police”. But we sure as hell could use more granular tools to aggregate, disseminate and distinguish content. We can take it from there.

I am acutely aware of the fine line between security and fascism.

Linden Lab may not want to participate in the “Arms Race”, but don’t surrender on my behalf. At least give me some bullets, not a butter knife.

I am wholeheartedly behind that. I hope that his prodding the Lab publicly and the folks planning ways to get attention inworld turns out to be an effective way of wielding butter knives to  get the Lab’s attention. Content creators are what makes Second Life vibrant and unique, and they deserve to have the lab make some effort to protect their hard work.

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Reading about Delinda Dryssen’s problems with her permium membership billing reminded me how fragile Second Life premium memberships are. And how hazardous. Any premium member is just one billing problem away from lockout from the grid.

Even scarier, though, is that if something happens and you’re unable to pay your premium membership for a length of time (possibly as little as 30 days), the negative balance on your account will actually cause your avatar and all of its inventory to be deleted. Oh, and your L$ balance is gone, too. Want to hear what’s really crazy, though? Free accounts aren’t subject to deletion upon inactivity.

So let’s think about this: free accounts are actually safer than paid premium accounts. This is not what I consider a key marketing point for premium membership. There is a ten month old  JIRA issue about this which appears to have stalled. A shame, since at least allowing people to opt in to having their accounts revert to basic rather than losing their inventories and L$ balances as well as their land in case of extended nonpayment sounds like a sensible solution.

I’m still a premium member, even though I rent in the Five Islands. I maintain a 512 for my shop in Varsity on the Mainland. It appears that the only thing to do to ensure that my account will be safe from this sort of thing is to make sure I have enough USD in your account to cover the next membership payment. Talk about bothersome.  I do maintain a no payment information on file alt with modify rights on all of my objects, but that would still not allow me access to my inventory while I tried to untangle an issue like Delinda’s.

Wasn’t there a request a year ago by one of the Lindens for ideas of various perks that could be used to make premium membership more attractive? When the lab is ready to dust those suggestions off, I hope this one is near the top of the stack for consideration, since all of the perks in the world won’t stack up well against a disincentive like this one.

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M Linden’s now-infamous labeling of music as a “killer app” for Second Life has led to a lot of discussion and blowing of hot air. Even when some very specific and relatively easily-implementable suggestions were made during the Looking to the Future of Live Performance in Second Life session at SLCC (Really, how hard would it be to repurpose an unused subcategory in Events?), they were automatically put in the “Not in 2009” pile. In the end, the live music community has been left to its own devices to feel its way along.

I’m pretty much a nobody on the Second Life live music scene. I don’t own a venue. I am not a musician, since I can’t tolerably play an instrument as well as sing. So why is the current music venue “to cover charge or not to cover charge” drama bothering me? Maybe it’s because I’m the supposedly deep pockets that it feels like some music venue owners and musicians seem to want to reach into for cover charges.

So in the interest of market research, let’s take a look at a few facts about Feline, a representative individual among SL Live Music Target Market:

I attend live music events inworld. Recently, it has only been 4 days a week , attending at least one event, often two. I tip both the performer and the venue. I usually tip a host/hostess, but only if they don’t annoy the crap out of me with chatspam.

I enjoy interesting chat during events, and will participate in it if I am not listening while cooking dinner or chasing naughty cats. I also will not try to participate in chat if it’s just a bunch of chatspam, because, well, that’s not chat. If your venue is full of nothing but gesturespam, it doesn’t offer me anything that listening to a musician via WinAmp does, and it will impact how (and occasionally if) I tip the venue’s tip jar.

I have also purchased music from several SL musicians via Amazon, CDBaby, and iTunes.

So, to summarize your market research so far: Feline pays for her live music entertainment in Second Life.

By now, I seem like a prime candidate for the not-new-but-new-again push for cover charges in Second Life. Venue owners and musicians who read this (as if anyone actually reads this blog!) will think, “Feline won’t have a problem paying a cover charge.”

I have one more fact about me for your market research: I’m about to be laid off in real life. My entertainment budget is going to be taking a hit. My ability to tip be impaired. Tips will likely become modest, and they could possibly dwindle to nothing at all. So having cover charges being championed now feels a bit like a slap in the face to this representative individual in the SL Live Music Target Market who has dutifully paid my way in the past.

Perhaps the musicians and venue owners who are championing cover charges will feel that it doesn’t matter what I have been a Good Live Music Citizen in the past. If I have no ability to pay my way, I have no place enjoying the product they produce. Maybe goodwill counts for nothing and the almighty dollar everything.

In a time when, at least in the US, half a million more people were unemployed last month, when the job market isn’t expected to get better any time soon, is it a good idea to move from a “pay what you can” to a “pay or go away” model for live music in Second Life?

If you’ve read my rambling so far, you have already figured out that I think it isn’t a good idea. Lest you think this is all about me, I think we should widen the view a little. By its nature, Second Life population has attrition and turnover. To continue to maintain attendance at performances, new people constantly need to discover and get interested in the “killer app” of live music. Or, as Zorch Boomhauer put it, “The most prudent course of action is to take steps to build the numbers of residents interested in Live music in Second Life.” Cover charges — paying before someone even knows if they like live music — is a barrier to cultivating new faces in the audience. And the tighter everybody’s entertainment budgets are (remember that 9.7% unemployment?), the higher that barrier looms. The live music community needs to break down the walls and welcome new people to discover live music, not lock them out.

Then again, what do I know. I’m just a nobody on the Second Life live music scene. A face in the crowd. What’s the value of that random face in the crowd? We’ll find out if it turns out I’m unable to peek in the window after cover charges close the door that leads the way to live music in Second Life.

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